Liquid crystalline nanostructures: organizing matrices for non-enzymatic nucleic acid polymerization
When a mixture of amphiphilic compounds and solute molecules undergoes dehydration, a liquid crystalline multilamellar matrix is produced that organizes and concentrates solute molecules between lamellae. If the solutes are nucleotides, RNA-like molecules can be synthesized by a condensation reaction when the system is exposed to one or more cycles of dehydration at elevated temperatures, followed by rehydration. The chemical potential driving the reaction is supplied by the anhydrous conditions in which water becomes a leaving group, with heat providing activation energy. Liquid crystalline matrices composed of amphiphilic compounds could have promoted polymerization reactions in prebiotic conditions, giving rise to the molecular complexity required for the origin of cellular life.